Teaching Strategies

Suggested Practices

All approaches to teaching observation can benefit from a clear structure and expectations that are clearly outlined in advance (Cosh, 1998; Fletcher, 2018). The purpose(s) for the observation should align with the instructor’s goals and the goals of the larger educational environment for the course. Instructors and observers might also consider scheduling more than one opportunity for observation.

Pre and Post Observation Meetings

Many instructors and observers find it helpful to have pre-observation and post-observation meetings. A pre-observation meeting can help orient the observer to the course, set expectations for the observation, and address any concerns the observation might raise. A post-observation meeting can serve to debrief the experience, address anything about the class which was unusual, and further facilitate instructor reflection.

Pre Observation Meetings

Below are some items that the observer and the instructor may wish to discuss in a pre-observation meeting:

  • The course goals and its larger educational setting.
  • The instructor’s history teaching this course and/or their experience with this particular course thus far.
  • The instructor’s goals and plans for the class which will be observed, why they’ve designed the class period a particular way, and what (if anything) students have been asked to prepare in advance.
  • Any concerns the instructor or observer have about the upcoming teaching observation, matters of confidentiality, and/or concerns about implicit biases and the classroom environment.
  • Particular criteria the observer might attend to and/or any new approaches that the instructor is experimenting with and would like feedback regarding.

Post Observation Meetings

Below are some items that the observer and the instructor may wish to discuss in a post-observation meeting:

  • The instructor’s experience of the class (i.e. impressions of successes or difficulties, whether or not the class period was representative of other classes, etc.)
  • Ways in which the class aligned (or didn’t) with the instructor’s goals for the day
  • Indicators of student engagement and learning and any patterns in how different students engaged.
  • Particular strong points (e.g. the facilitation aligned with the instructor’s goals for student interaction, materials were organized in a way that was easy for students to follow) as well as specific concerns or suggestions for improvement (e.g. students seemed confused about their task in small groups and instructions could have been more detailed; most of the day’s conversation ended up adjacent to the central learning goal for the class period).
  • If the teaching observation was part of a summative evaluation for a department or school, what are the next steps?

Observer or Observed Roles

Considerations and preparation for a teaching observation will depend on the role one plays in the process and the occasion for the observation. Below are some suggested practices for those who will be observing an instructor primarily for their own benefit, those who will be observing an instructor primarily for the purpose of providing constructive feedback, and those who will be observed in their teaching. Additionally, all parties involved in a teaching observation might consider having pre-observation and/or post-observation meetings.

Those Observing an Instructor for The Observer’s Benefit

Those who will be observing an instructor primarily for their own benefit (such as shadowing an instructor to learn from their teaching practice or to get a better sense of the typical components of a particular course), might consider the following:

  • Asking for a copy of the syllabus and gaining familiarity with the course goals in advance.
  • Having a discussion with the instructor prior to or after the observation in order to ask questions about their teaching practice, their particular approaches in the observed class, etc.
  • Preparing a list of criteria you plan to focus on, perhaps related to areas of your own teaching you want to reflect on or improve.

Those Observing an Instructor to Provide Feedback

Those who will be observing an instructor will the primary goal of providing constructive feedback, might consider:

  • Asking for a copy of the syllabus and gaining familiarity with the course goals in advance.
  • Gaining familiarity with the role of the course in its larger educational setting (such as asking about the level of the course, any prerequisites or pre-existing knowledge it assumes, and/or its role in degree or credentialing requirements.)
  • Preparing a list of criteria on which to provide feedback, perhaps in conjunction with the instructor being observed. (A list of sample observation forms and model questions is provided at the end of this resource.)
  • Taking notes and sharing them with the instructor.

While there’s no one right way to go about conducting a teaching observation, there are a few practices that researchers and practitioners tend to caution against, including: 

  • Participating in the class (i.e. making comments or asking questions).
  • Talking to students about their opinion of the course or the instructor.
  • Setting expectations for the instructor according to their own teaching styles or goals.
  • Exclusively identifying problems and areas needing improvement (positive feedback and the identification of successful teaching approaches can be just as beneficial for instructors in developing their teaching practice).

Instructors Being Observed to Gain Feedback

Instructors whose teaching will be observed, especially if for the purpose of gaining constructive feedback and developing a reflective teaching practice, may wish to consider:

  • The selection of an observer – if the instructor has the opportunity to select a particular observer who will be giving feedback, consider someone who is familiar with the course goals and/or the general subject matter.
  • Sharing the course syllabus with the observer, goals for the class period, and any assignments or readings that students must do for the observed class period in advance of the observation.
  • Identifying several criteria for the observer to focus their attention and feedback in advance of the observation.
  • Introducing the observer at the beginning of class, informing students about the general purpose for the teaching observation, and letting them know they are not being evaluated.
  • Keeping any feedback received from teaching observations for the purpose of evaluating development in teaching overtime or for a teaching portfolio.